“You know, Pastor Tom, when you’re used to there being two of you, you miss the sound of laughter when it’s just one of you in the house.” As my friend and I hung up, what she said stayed with me the rest of the evening. Her husband is in a nursing facility, visitors are not allowed due to the coronavirus pandemic, and laughter is hard to come by.
It’s like this: smiles and tears are abundant, but laughter can be mighty scarce sometimes when you are limited to a few minutes of visiting through the window: no touching, no hugging, no embracing, just a hand from each held up to the window and that whispered “I love you,” before the one visiting tromps through the grass back to the parking lot and the one in residence waits for the nursing staff to come back and get him back into bed.
“When you’re used to there being two of you, you miss the sound of laughter when it’s just one of you in the house.” Maybe you know someone in need of a good belly laugh today to shake off the blues. Might you also know how to make that happen?
Today our Lord might lead you to pray for health care workers in hospitals and care facilities, or to pray for families separated from a loved one, and for loved ones separated from the families.
It might be you know someone in need of laughter or joy or happiness, the genuine kind that doesn’t depend on circumstances but is the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Or maybe you will be led to pray for someone or something that has weighed heavily upon your heart during these pandemic days. But how will you ever know until you pray?
God Bless and Be with you today,
Marie Kondo has made famous the question “Does it spark joy?” But no matter how hard I try, my skill at folding clothes has yet to spark joy. It does cause uproarious laughter among family members, but I don’t think that is the joy Marie Kondo was getting at.
To admit the obvious, sparking joy has been harder during these days of the pandemic. Routines are topsy-turvy. Mental and physical exhaustion creep in without warning. Patience - like yeast, flour and bread – is in short supply at times, and favorite restaurants are closed. Even the nerves of friends and family whom you knew to be fray-proof and frazzle-proof are now showing signs of being frazzled and frayed.
What is a person to do? Increase your joy spark by answering these questions:
Is there more joy in being selfish or being unselfish? The “right” answer is easy for this one, but it is still true that unselfish attitudes and actions have tremendous power to spark joy in others as well as yourself.
What does the acronym JOY stand for? Long ago someone turned the word “joy” into the acronym JOY: Jesus – Others – You. When joy isn’t all about me (or you), there is more joy to go around. Of course you attend to those habits and hobbies and people that bring you joy, but it doesn’t have to stop there. And sometimes it doesn’t even have to start there either. Joy that spreads is joy that sparks and is mindful of others as well as oneself.
What company does your joy keep? Joy is easier to spark when surrounded by love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-discipline. Want more sparks of joy? Focus also on one of these other areas that are named for us in Galatians 5:22-23, and see what happens.
In the Good Book the apostle Paul wrote: “Spark my joy again and again” (oops! That’s Marie Kondo sneaking in there again) “by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose …Each of you should look not only to your own interests but also to the interest of others. Have the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus.” Amen. (Philippians 2:2-5)
Jesus – Others – You. Three key ingredients to sparking joy.
God Bless and Be with you,
“My daughter asked for prayers for her neighbor in the apartment building. He had started drinking heavily after he had been told his lease would not be renewed, about the same time that he got laid off since his work place shut down. My daughter and her husband don’t know the whole story, but he was a good neighbor and they had gotten along; they are troubled for him and praying for him. The police stopped by just a couple of nights ago. It wasn’t confrontational, just trying to get him out of the apartment and to a place where he could get some help.”
The scene described above is being played out repeatedly across the country: neighbors in turmoil, jobs disappearing, housing that once could be counted on suddenly can’t be any longer. People’s lives are affected, and there is no thought of tomorrow for them because getting through today will be challenge enough. Please take a moment to pray for someone you know who is facing an overwhelming challenge.
Last week our Bishop (Bishop Tracy Malone) shared these words of encouragement for times such as these:
“God has not brought us this far to leave us now. We are being called and prepared to be the church at such a time as this. We are called to be God’s witnesses in this world that so desperately needs to know the love, the joy and the hope of Jesus. As Psalm 27 reminds us, ‘The Lord is my light and my salvation. So why should I be afraid? The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger. So why should I tremble?’ Let us hold fast to these words and to these promises. And remember that with the Lord on our side, and with us praying together and uniting together in being the hands of feet of Christ together, we will come through this together.”
We will come through this together—both for our sakes and for the sakes of others too, for the deserving and the undeserving, for those who are sore afflicted and those able to offer succor to their neighbor in need. Through Christ all things are possible, and together we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength. May you be blessed to be a blessing this day,
From a telephone conversation in mid-March--
Pastor Tom, I think my dogs got saved last Sunday. We were on the couch, coffee in hand, staying at home and getting ready to tune into the online service. By the way, in case you are wondering, Pastor Tom, this is a pretty good way to go to church. You ought to try it some time.
When the service came on, our dogs nestled on the floor in front of us. And then when you started to preach, they perked up their ears and took in every word – seriously! When you came to the closing prayer, our one dog Buddy - Buddy is the name we gave him, but we have no idea what names he has given us - Buddy had his front legs crossed, then put his head on top of them and closed his eyes.
It was very touching, until I realized he was falling asleep. "You can't sleep during Pastor Tom's sermon," I said to Buddy, "that's what the two-leggeds do!" So I gave him a nudge to wake him up.
"Leave poor Buddy alone," came the angelic voice across her cup of steaming coffee. "Can't you tell he's praying? He's got his paws crossed, head bowed and eyes closed." I had to admit that she had a point I couldn't argue with.
Sleeping or praying, you are invited to online worship Sundays at 10 am. I won't be able to see you with a cup of your morning brew, but hope you'll be there all the same.
In these days of social distancing, non-listeners have been bailed out with a built-in excuse. When they are asked, "Have you even heard a single thing I have said?" they can say, “How can I? You’re six feet away!” Truth is, whether it’s an art, a gift or a skill, listening is still more of a attitude thing than a distance thing. As the Good Book says when giving us two slows and a quick: “let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger.” (James 1:19).
It is said that Mother Theresa was once asked by Dan Rather of CBS News what she said during her prayers. She answered, "I listen." Then Dan Rather turned the question around and asked, "Well, if you’re listening, then what does God say?" Mother Theresa smiled and said, "God listens." The reliably unflappable Dan Rather flapped for a moment, so Mother Theresa helped him out: "If you don't understand that," she added, "then I can't explain it to you."
How much that story has changed over the years is difficult to say. (Mother Theresa passed away in 1997.) But it still rings true and sounds like a lot of listening. When it’s noisy or when it’s quiet, at home or out for a walk, sitting still or battling with garden weeds, what will listening sound like today for you? As the Good Book says, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening” (I Samuel 3:10).
“Hey, are you able to live-stream the Sunday services?” I asked the kind sir who was born before before phones without cords and even before tv dinners in aluminum foil and also before left arrow traffic lights, but still born in time to be around when the Browns won the NFL championship game in 1964, and even when the Indians won the World Series in 1948.
And there I was, asking him about Sunday morning live-stream worship services.
“Not a problem, Pastor Tom. I can live-stream with the youngest of them. I have seen every live-stream service since the pandemic hit. Usually I’m just in my pajamas but for Easter morning I put on my fancy pants.”
Fancy pants on Easter morning - pretty impressive. His comments got me thinking about the wardrobe so greatly needed in these pandemic days. You could call it a wardrobe of Easter finery, even if fancy pants aren’t in the collection:
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” — Colossians 3:12-14
Go ahead, try the wardrobe on! It’s not heavy, though at times you might wonder how on earth you will ever fit into some of it. Don’t worry - leave that to the Lord, our Master Tailor, and let the wardrobe become a blessing to you and to those around you.
"God has made everything beautiful in its time."
(from the Good Book, Ecclesiastes 3:11)
First it was toilet paper and bread that you couldn't find anywhere. Then it was hair color, baking yeast, spiral hams and Spam that were flying off the shelves. What will it be next? And such daily inconveniences are nothing compared to the true crisis: 649 fatalities in Ohio from the coronavirus, over 52,000 fatalities nationwide (as of April 24, 2020).
Pay checks are disappearing, one million Ohio workers have filed for unemployment. There are many whose health is threatened by this virus, and who are cut off from family and friends. It is a time of anxiety, difficulty and worry, a time when hearts are sifted and faith is tested.
And yet it is also a time of caring, a time for being mindful of others, a time finding ways to connect and support neighbors and families. It is a time to flex the muscles of faith we have been given, and to do likewise with the muscles of prayer that you have.
"Lord we do not see the beauty of this time, but we give you our lives and we lift up our prayers to you. In faith we pray that you will make these times beautiful in your time. In faith we trust you've got the whole world in your hands, from the itty bitty babies to the most senior among us. In faith we turn to you we turn and ask that you see us through it all.
“May we depend on you. And may we depend on your word. May your beauty be seen in the ways we care and are mindful of others, and in the times we connect with each other and support the neighbors and families we have. For times such as these, may we put to use the muscles of prayer and faith that you have given us. Amen.”
(Highlights of a telephone conversation this week with Mamie Grunau, our church historian and member of the Brunswick Area Historical Society.)
“Mamie, in these days of the coronavirus pandemic, what wisdom and encouragement can you offer to us youngsters who haven’t yet caught up to your 96 years upon this earth?”
Mamie: “I think of the saying, ‘This too shall pass.’ We’ve been through a lot over the years and we’re in the thick of it right now so it is hard to see that this will one day be over, but this too shall pass. Things might be different and we’ll have to make adjustments, but it shall pass. We’ll weather it together and get through it together.
“Mamie, I’ve got just the song!” I told her. With a smile in her voice she answered, “Don’t worry, that too will pass.” Then she said we needn’t worry because we would get to sing it with everyone when we get back to Sunday mornings at church.
O God our help in ages past, our hope for years to come,
be thou our guide while troubles last, and our eternal home.
And the song brought to mind the verses from the Good Book, “From everlasting to everlasting the LORD's love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children's children -- with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts” (Psalm 103:17-18).
“What else?” I asked. And Mamie answered, “I would simply encourage everyone to be mindful of others. Even in my building where visitors aren’t allowed and it’s easy to be discouraged, still I have seen many different ways of people watching out for others and not just themselves. How else can get through this together if we’re not together? And you don’t have to be 96 years in order to learn this lesson, you can learn it at any age.”
“Mamie, guess what? I’ve got just the song,” I told her. “I thought you might” she said, with just a tinge of resignation in her voice. “It’s a beach song from Southern California," I said, "so I don’t know if it ever made it to the shores of Lake Erie. Maybe we’ll have to go with a different one.” Here's that different one:
Jesu, Jesu fill us with your love, show us
how to serve the neighbors we have from you.
“Any last words before we hang up?” And Mamie answered, “I would tell everyone not give up hope. How can a person live without hope? As long as we have hope, we can continue, come what may. You’re still a little young, but remember, ‘faith, hope and love, these three abide.’ The greatest of these is love, but faith and hope are right behind.”
We said good-bye, Mamie and I, and so I’ll leave you with words that come from elsewhere in the Good Book, “We know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5).
Let your wisdom, hope and encouragement shine forth today!
Thursdays had been usually a busy day at the Brunswick United Methodist Church – church doors would get a workout throughout the day as they open and close, open and close, open and close. The day starts with the Food Pantry Ministry in the morning and continues with Small Group Bible Study Classes in the afternoon and evening. Once a month the church hosts a free community-wide Soup Dinner so the kitchen is bustling. The TOPS and Yoga community groups also found a home here on Thursdays, and during the school year a Special Education class from the high school would hold forth in a couple of the Sunday School rooms. Finally, the Praise Teams would put the day to bed, so to say, with its rehearsal in anticipation of an upcoming Sunday worship service.
The Food Pantry ministry came up with a way to deliver drive-through foodstuffs to clients, and continues to do so every Thursday. Other ministries and activities have been suspended for the time being. Even so, staying in touch (without touching), and being in contact (while maintaining social distancing) are a critical need these days. I received and email from one of our church family earlier this week, and with his permission, share it with you all:
Pastor Tom: Although we all self-isolating, we can still reach out by phone or email to friends, family, and church family. My wife and I have been doing so the last few days. If everyone did the same, we could all stay connected and uplifted. This way everyone feels like they are not forgotten and in this alone. This is a win-win situation as it makes you feel good also. So we would like to ask every member to take time and make a few phone calls. Hope all is well with you and yours. Stay well.
God Bless and Be with you,
As she told me the events of that afternoon at the hospital, I realized that what I was hearing, in our very own COVID-19 coronavirus days, were verses out of the Bible being brought to life. The problem was, I couldn’t find the verses.
So I did what any highly-trained seminary graduate with many years of pastoral experience does when wanting an immediate answer (if he happens to be married): “Susan,” I said, “where’s that passage with the Bible verses?”
The answer, I am happy to saw, was immediate. It’s just that the negotiations leading up to the answer happened to take a while longer. But we finally settled on three upstairs windows being washed inside and out, and also dinner out (or dinner in, in case she can’t wait for the stay-at-home guidelines to end.) I know what you might be thinking, but let me just say that across these many years, this was actually one of my more successful negotiations.
The verses I was looking for (and which cost me only one dinner and three washed windows) are II Timothy 1:3-4, and they go like this: “Night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy.”
It had been six weeks, maybe more, when they last saw each other. He was in a Brunswick care facility, she at home. The facility, like all nursing facilities, had been (and still is) off-limits to all non-residents, including family and spouses. However they caught a lucky break, if you could call it that, because he had to be taken to the hospital due to heart complications.
The hospital telephoned with the news that surgery for a pacemaker was scheduled for the next day. “If you come, you can see your husband for ONE MINUTE when he is being taken in for surgery.”
She was there of course, and the hospital was true to its word: one minute only as they prepared to wheel him away. With leads on stickers being attached across his chest and hospital staff at the gurney, she took his hand and gave it a squeeze. He opened his eyes and saw her, and as their eyes met the tears poured forth for them both. “Hi sweetheart. I didn’t think I’d ever get to see you again,” he said. They told each other “I love you,” and that was it.
She was so grateful, she said, and she also said this: “That was one minute more than everyone else in that nursing home and all the nursing homes have had these past six weeks, and who knows how much longer until we can see each other again.” With that we spoke too of the need to pray for residents and patients, for their caregivers, and for the families and spouses in this time of distancing and separation. Would you pray for them today and for someone you know in the midst of such separation?
God Bless you,
“Night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy.”
II Timothy 1:3-4